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Guiana Space Centre

Centre Spatial Guyanais

Sign at the entrance to the Guiana Space Centre
Agency overview
Formed April 14, 1964 (1964-04-14)
Jurisdiction Government of France
Headquarters Kourou, French Guiana
Employees 1,525 direct (2011)
7,500 indirect (2011)
Agency executive
  • Bernard Chemoul, director
Parent agency ESA/CNES
Website .fr.cnes-csgwww
Map of Guiana Space Centre

The Guiana Space Centre or, more commonly, Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) is a French and European spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana. Operational since 1968, it is particularly suitable as a location for a spaceport as it fulfills the two major geographical requirements of such a site:

  • it is quite close to the equator, so that the spinning earth can impart some extra velocity to the rockets for free when launched eastward, and
  • it has uninhabited territory (in this case, open sea) to the east, so that lower stages of rockets and debris from launch failures cannot fall on human habitations.

The European Space Agency (ESA), the French space agency CNES (National Centre for Space Studies), and the commercial Arianespace company conduct launches from Kourou.[1][2][3] This was the spaceport used by the ESA to send supplies to the International Space Station using the Automated Transfer Vehicle.

The location was selected in 1964 to become the spaceport of France.[4][5] In 1975, France offered to share Kourou with ESA.[4][5] Commercial launches are bought also by non-European companies. ESA pays two thirds of the spaceport's annual budget and has also financed the upgrades made during the development of the Ariane launchers.


  • Facilities 1
    • ELV (CECLES/ELA-1) 1.1
    • ELA 2 1.2
    • ELA 3 1.3
    • ELS / Soyuz at CSG 1.4
    • Final assembly building 1.5
  • Launch safety 2
  • Early launches 3
  • Recent launches 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The now-decommissioned ELA 2 - l'Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 2 Ariane 4 launch site
The final assembly building for Ariane 5
ELA-3 map

Kourou is located approximately 500 kilometres (310 mi) north of the equator, at a latitude of 5°10'. The near-equatorial launch location provides an advantage for launches to low-inclination (or geostationary) Earth orbits compared to launches from spaceports at higher latitude. For example, the eastward boost provided by the Earth's rotation is about 463 m/s (1,035 miles per hour) at the Guiana Space Centre versus about 406 m/s (908 miles per hour) at the United States east coast Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center spaceports which are at 28°27′N latitude in Florida.[6] [7] The proximity to the equator also makes maneuvering satellites for geosynchronous orbits simpler and less costly.


Originally built in the 1960s under the name of CECLES (French: Conférence Européenne de Construction de Lanceurs et d'Engins Spatiaux, English: European conference on construction of launchers and spacecraft), the ELV pad (French: l'Ensemble de Lancement Vega) located at was designed for the Europa-II rocket. One Europa-II was launched from the site, before the programme was cancelled.

The pad was demolished, and subsequently rebuilt as the first launch complex for Ariane rockets. Renamed ELA (later redesignated ELA 1), it was used for Ariane 1 and Ariane 2 and 3 launches until being retired in 1989.[8]

It was again refurbished for the Vega (rocket) with the first launch performed on 13 February 2012.[9]


The ELA 2 pad (French: l'Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 2), located at had been used for Ariane 4 launches until 2003.


ELA 3 (French: l'Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 3) has been active for Ariane 5 launches since 1996 (Ariane 501). This facility is located at and covers an area of 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi).[10]

ELS / Soyuz at CSG

ESA has built ELS (French: l'Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz) at for launching Russian-built Soyuz-2 rockets. The first Soyuz launch from ELS was postponed several times, but launched on October 21, 2011.[11]

ELS is located on the territory of Sinnamary commune, 27 km (17 mi) from Kourou harbor.[12] It is 10 km (6.2 mi) north of the site used for the Ariane 5 launches. Under the terms of the Russo-European joint venture, ESA will augment its own launch vehicle fleet with Soyuz rockets—using them to launch ESA or commercial payloads—and the Russians will get access to the Kourou spaceport for launching their own payloads with Soyuz rockets. Russia will use the Guiana Space Centre in addition to Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Guiana location has the significant benefit of greatly increased payload capability, owing to the near equatorial position. A Soyuz rocket with a 1.7 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) performance from Baikonur, will increase its payload potential to 2.8 tonnes from the Guiana launch site.[13]

The rocket assembly procedures will differ from ones used at Baikonur. Traditionally, the Soyuz gets fully assembled in horizontal position, then transported to a launch pad and erected for launch. In ELS the rocket solely is assembled in horizontal position, then transported and erected. A spacecraft is then transported to the pad separately and attached to the rocket. To protect from dust and wind, the launch pad will have a closed gantry. The gantry will be able to move away from the pad for launch.[14]

The ELS project is being co-funded by Arianespace, ESA, and the European Union, with CNES being the prime contractor. The project has a projected cost of approximately €320 million, where €120 million are allocated for modernizing the Soyuz vehicle.[15] The official opening of the launch site construction occurred on 27 February 2007. Excavation work however, had previously begun several months beforehand. As of May 2008, groundworks were still continuing but the flame pit was substantially complete, along with the shell of the Soyuz assembly building. Equipment manufactured in Russia had arrived in French Guiana by July 2008, with Russian technicians performing the equipment installation at ELS.[16]

In November 2007, reports[17] emerged attributed to Vladimir Grezdilov, general director of the Mir company, of thefts from the Soyuz site near Sinnamari, which could cause delays to its completion and the first launches.

In February 2009, ESA reported from Samara, Russia that the launchers destined for the ELS were being built.[18]

On May 21, 2009, Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported that the first two Soyuz-ST to be launched at ELS have been built, tested and prepared for delivery to ELS.[19]

On August 25, 2009, the general director of the Progress design bureau Alexander Kirilin said that the first launch of the Soyuz-ST from the Kourou space center was postponed for the beginning of April 2010. He informed that the first three rockets had been built and would be shipped on November 1, 2009 by sea.[20]

On September 13, 2010, Spaceflight Now reported that after several delays in the construction of a mobile gantry the launch pad had been finished, and the first flight of the Soyuz is expected to occur in early 2011.[21] By October 2010, 18 launch contracts have been signed. Arianespace has ordered 24 launchers from Russian industry, with the first two already delivered to CSG.[22]

On January 14, 2011, BBC reported that the Soyuz launch complex will have its qualification review in April with the expectation for the first Soyuz to lift-off sometime between 15 August and 15 September [of 2011].[23]

On July 1, 2011, Space News reported that after clearance Qualification Committee a launch October 20, 2011 seems possible.[24]

On October 21, 2011, two Galileo IOV-1 & IOV-2 satellites were launched using a Soyuz-ST rocket, in the "first Russian Soyuz vehicle ever launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana."[25]

On December 17, 2011, another Soyuz was launched from Kourou carrying the French space agency's Pleiades 1 A Earth imaging satellite, four ELISA electronic intelligence satellites, and the SSOT remote sensing satellite for the Chilean military.[26]

On December 1, 2012, Pleiade 1 B, twin of the above, was put into orbit by yet another Soyuz.[27]

Final assembly building

Astrium assembles each Ariane 5 launcher in the Launcher Integration Building. The vehicle is then delivered to the Final Assembly Building for payload integration by Arianespace.[28] The Final Assembly Building is located 2.8 kilometres (1.7 mi) from the ELA-3 launch zone. The mobile launch table completes the trip with an Ariane 5 in about one hour. It is then secured in place over the launch pad's flame ducts.[29]

Launch safety

Ariane IV launched from the Guiana Space Centre on 10 August 1992

Fire safety is ensured by a detachment of the Paris Fire Brigade, a branch of the French Army. Security around the base is ensured by French Gendarmerie forces, assisted by the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion.

Before and during launch windows, CSG facility security is significantly enhanced by anti-personnel and anti-aircraft measures, the exact configurations of which are classified by the French military. All entrants to the launch complex are also subject to checks for proof of permission to enter the facility.

The Guiana Space Centre (as per CNES) also holds the Îles du Salut, a former penal colony including the infamous Devil's Island. Now a tourist site, the islands are under the launching trajectory for geosynchronous orbit and have to be evacuated during launches.

Early launches

  • 10 March 1970 - The first Diamant-B launched the DIAL/MIKA and DIAL/WIKA satellites. DIAL/MIKA failed during launch, but it entered orbit with a total mass of 111 kg.[30] DIAL/WIKA provided data for about two months after launch.[31]

Recent launches

  • 5 October 2007 - An Ariane 5 GS launched from CSG carrying Intelsat 11 and Optus D2.[32]
  • 9 March 2008 - An Ariane 5 launched carrying the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) Jules Verne in preparation for docking with the ISS. This was the first launch of the ESA unmanned resupply craft.
  • 18 April 2008 - An Ariane 5 launched carrying Vinasat-1 - Vietnam's first satellite.[33]
  • 14 August 2008 - An Ariane 5 carrying Superbird 7 for Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and AMC-21 for SES Americom
  • 20 December 2008 - An Ariane 5 carrying HOT BIRD 9 and W2M for Eutelsat[34][35]
  • 14 May 2009 - An Ariane 5 carrying the ESA's Herschel and Planck space telescopes[36]
  • 1 July 2009 - An Ariane 5 carrying TerreStar-1, the heaviest commercial telecommunications satellite ever launched[37]
  • 18 December 2009 - An Ariane 5 carrying Helios 2B European military observation satellite used by France, Belgium, Spain and Greece.[38]
  • 21 May 2011 - 04:38 (GMT+08:00) An Ariane 5 ECA rocket launched carrying ST-2 Satellite twice as powerful SingTel’s first satellite ST-1 which was launched back in 1998. It will provide 20 per cent more transponder capacity and a wider coverage footprint than ST-1, with C-band and Ku-band coverage of the Middle East, Central Asia, Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia.
  • 21 October 2011 - A Soyuz-2 carrying two Galileo satellites was launched. This was the first launch of a Soyuz rocket at the Guiana Space Centre.[39]
  • 17 December 2011 - A Soyuz carrying the French space agency's Pleiades 1 Earth imaging satellite, four ELISA electronic intelligence satellites, and the SSOT remote sensing satellite for the Chilean military. This was the second launch of a Soyuz at the Guiana Space Centre.[40]
An Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou on 29 August 2013.
  • 13 February 2012 - The Vega, which was designed in Italy, lifted off at 10:00 GMT on its maiden voyage. The launcher released nine satellites into orbit: two Italian satellites and seven pico-satellites.[41]
  • 5 July 2012 - The unmanned Ariane 5 rocket took off to send an American communication satellite and European weather-monitoring spacecraft into orbit. Liftoff occurred at 17:36 EDT (21:36 GMT).[42]
  • 30 August 2013 - Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the advanced multi-band communication satellite GSAT-7.[43] It was 17th Indian satellite launched from ESA with Ariane. [44]

See also


  1. ^ "CNES at Europe's Spaceport". European Space Agency. ESA. 
  2. ^ "ESA at Europe's Spaceport". European Space Agency. ESA. 
  3. ^ "Arianespace at Europe's Spaceport". European Space Agency. ESA. 
  4. ^ a b "Installation of the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana". Guiana Space Centre official website
  5. ^ a b "Europe's Spaceport". European Space Agency official website
  6. ^ "Satellite Programmes Overview - Launching Satellites". EUMETSAT. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  7. ^ "Up, Up, and Away". The Universe: In the Classroom. Astro Society. Retrieved 2011-08-11. 
  8. ^ "Pad List - World Launch Sites". Space Launch Report. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. 
  9. ^ "Vega liftoff / Vega / Launch vehicles / Launchers / Our Activities / ESA". 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2013-09-12. 
  10. ^ "Europe's spaceport". ESA. 
  11. ^ SpaceflightNow's VS01 flight status page
  12. ^ Harvey, Brian. Space Exploration 2007. Springer. p. 138. 
  13. ^ (French) Le Port Spatial de l'Europe (CNES)
  14. ^ Soyuz User's Manual
  15. ^ "Europe To Pay Russia To Build Soyuz Pad At Kourou: Russia". SpaceDaily. 
  16. ^ "Soyuz launch site hardware arrives in French Guiana".  
  17. ^ "Thefts Place Russian Rocket Launches Under Threat In French Guiana".  
  18. ^ "Soyuz in Samara (video)". 
  19. ^ "Russian rockets readied for South America launch". 
  20. ^ "Soyuz-ST rocket launch from Kourou set for April 2010". 
  21. ^ "Soyuz, Vega flights from French Guiana set for 2011". 
  22. ^ "Arianespace hosts meeting of launch system manufacturers" (Press release). Evry. 11 October 2010. 
  23. ^ "2011 'year of rockets' for Europe". BBC News. 14 January 2011. 
  24. ^ "European Soyuz Must Pass Final Exam Before October Debut". Space News. 1 July 2011. 
  25. ^ Messier, Doug (22 October 2011). "Soyuz Launches From Kourou for First Time". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  26. ^ "Six defense satellites launched by Soyuz rocket". 17 December 2011. 
  27. ^ "Nouvelle mission réussie pour Soyouz en Guyane". 1 December 2012. 
  28. ^ "Arianespace receives its fifth Ariane 5 of 2008". Arianespace. 28 July 2008. 
  29. ^ "Ariane 5 rolls out for Arianespace's fifth launch of 2007". Arianespace. 8 November 2007. 
  30. ^ "DIAL/MIKA - NSSDC ID: 1970-017B". NASA NSSDC. 
  31. ^ "DIAL/WIKA - NSSDC ID: 1970-017A". NASA NSSDC. 
  32. ^ "Arianespace boosts Intelsat 11 and Optus D2 into orbit". Arianespace. 
  33. ^ "Vietnam successfully pilots Vinasat-1". VietNamNet. April 22, 2011. Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  34. ^ Archived January 22, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ "Eutelsat's Hot Bird 9 and W2M Satellites Lofted into Orbit" (PDF) (Press release). Paris: Eutelsat Communications. 20 December 2008. 
  36. ^ "ESA en route to the origins of the Universe".  
  37. ^ Amos, Jonathan (1 July 2009). "'"Ariane lofts biggest 'space bird. BBC. Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  38. ^ "Helios 2". Retrieved 19 Dec 2012. 
  39. ^ Rosenberg, Zach. "First Soyuz launch from French Guiana". FlightGlobal. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  40. ^ "Arianespace VSO2 mission: Soyuz STA orbits Pleiades 1A, ELISA and SSOT". Arianespace. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  41. ^ "Successful lift-off for Vega rocket". News24. 
  42. ^ "Follow Ariane launch live". Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales. (CNES). 
  43. ^ India launches first defence satellite GSAT-7
  44. ^ Navy's first satellite GSAT-7 now in the SpaceThe Hindu, Aug 30, 2013 by Madhumati D. S.

External links

  • Official website (French)
  • Official website
  • Europe's Spaceport - Information from ESA
  • List of Stratospheric Balloons launched from CSG - Information from StratoCat
  • Arianespace mission status - Information on current and upcoming Ariane missions; list of past missions

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